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Articles : Parenting and Bonding
Your Self-Confident Baby by Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson: Back to Articles
by Julie Begman Sender

I'm pregnant with my first child. Can you recommend a good book on natural and holistic parenting?

When I was pregnant, like you, I started reading. At first I was trying to acclimate myself to this new state I was in - that of carrying another human being inside of me. Then I was reading to gain information: Tips from so-called experts who would tell me not only what was happening inside my body but also what to expect when this part was over and the baby was born.

Someone had given me WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU ARE EXPECTING as a gift. I started reading it and soon had to put it away -or rather throw it away. I found the tone of the book and much of the information in it alarmist. I decided that this book was too stress inducing for me and I had to find other sources of information and encouragement. What I think I was really looking for was the voice of the mother I wanted to be - and then of course I began to realize that that voice would come through a process that I was only at the very very beginning stages of - and that time was on my side and would guide me through it all.

But that tiny discovery didn't stop my looking for information - it just changed the kind of information I was looking for. I luckily found the Sears and Sears book, THE BABY BOOK as a good replacement for the WHAT TO EXPECT one. Same practical information, just delivered in a way that felt more user-friendly and nurturing. And then there was the other book I received from the same person who gave me WHAT TO EXPECT, THE GIRLFRIEND'S GUIDE TO PREGNANCY which was really good for a laugh. But there was so much in between!

One of the first books I read that struck a chord with me was YOUR SELF-CONFIDENT BABY by Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson. She was just a mother like you and me too when a trip to a pediatrician with her 6-year-old daughter in Hungary in the 1950's changed her life. She tells the story of meeting Dr. Emmi Pickler when she brought her daughter to see her complaining of a sore throat. As she began to explain to the Dr. She held up her hand to Magda and began to address the child directly. Magda watched Dr. Pikler ask her daughter about her sore throat. She then said to the little girl that she wanted to look down her throat - did the child want to look down her throat first? Magda was struck by the level of her daughter's cooperation on the one hand, and by how Dr. Picker related to her child on the other. She had never seen such a level of honesty and respect directed at a child.

This moment changed her life - and re-defined it all at once. She decided to get her master's in early childhood education and then assist Emmi Pickler in her work at an orphanage for healthy babies in Budapest. Many years later she coined the method she learned and developed RIE (Resources for infant educarers)and brought it to the U.S. in the late 1960's.

It's kind of amazing how one's life - and life's work can change in a moment - as the result of one powerful observation or experience such as this one. But it made so much sense to me. I started trying to understand why this was making such an impact on me. Before I read Magda's book I had an experience with RIE that I filed away for future use. We had some friends who had a daughter around 3 or 4 years old and they were huge Proponents of RIE. My husband and I met them long before we were even ready to have children and yet were struck by the way these people interacted with their child. There was something extraordinary about it and the child was extraordinary too.

We were all at the park together one afternoon, and Olivia was playing in the sandbox along with a bunch of other children. None of these children knew each other - they were just playing with each other in the sandbox - sometimes sharing their toys - sometimes not - sometimes moving off on their own and then returning to the group. Olivia's mother and I were talking and she was watching her daughter play but felt no need to interfere or call to her. Then she went to Olivia and said that in 5 minutes we would be leaving and that she should finish up what she was doing, collect her toys and get ready to go. A little boy playing near her had co-opted her bucket and shovel and was leaving the sandbox with them. Olivia watched him for a moment and then went to reason with him. He would not give the things back to her. She then sought out the boy's mother and explained that it was time for her to leave and that she needed to ask her son to give her her things back. She got her bucket and shovel and came to re-join her mother.

I was amazed by this. I didn't have a child of my own yet, and hadn't spent all that much time around small children - but my impression was that this interaction would have been fraught with whining, running to mommy to retrieve her things from the boy when he wouldn't give them back, and mommy would, of course, intervene and make it all better. But how wonderous was it that Olivia found a way to sort it out herself? That she felt able to try various means, calmly, to retrieve her things. As adults we may look at this and not see the complex series of negotiations involved because, hopefully we have learned to function in the world this way so that it has become second nature.

But for a young child - just beginning to make her way in the world - this level of reason and competence seemed extraordinary to me. I asked my friend about it. She was amused by how excited I was and how amazed I was. I asked her how this was possible - how did SHE do it. She smiled again, looked at me and said, I didn't do it, Olivia did it. Ever since she was a baby I have just tried to stay out of her way and let her handle appropriate challenges. I never forgot this. I was profoundly affected by it. Why? It made me think of my own childhood. That my memory of my parents was that they were always worried that something would happen if…. If I climbed to high up the tree outside our house - even though I was good at it and could take care of myself - If I wanted to help my mom in the kitchen - what if I made a mistake or didn't mix the ingredients just right - better I should watch, my mom would say, so that I could learn it first.

I also remember that my mother couldn't say "I'm sorry". She could only say "I'm sorry that you feel…" in response to my trying to make a case for myself. And though I generally agree that parents need to be in-step with one another and consistent vis- -vis how they are raising their children, I often felt that the parental unit was a monolith: There was me and then there was them.

I was starting to realize that I was looking for tools to help me cope with my fears of repeating certain patterns from my own childhood - patterns that were laid off on me by someone else. I wanted to try not to do this to the child growing in my belly. My husband also had a lot that he wanted to address from his childhood. So together we set out to undo some old patterns and establish our own - new ones.

And so I decided that I would gather information, philosophies and practical tools that would help me to empower rather than restrict; observe rather than instruct; to listen rather than tell. As a result, I began teaching parenting and infant classes.

Julie Bergman Sender began her career in 1982 as a film Executive at Warner Brothers. After almost two decades of work in film and producing over 10 films including Washington Square, G.I. Jane and Six Days, Seven Nights Julie took a sabbatical from the rigors of traveling on location to raise daughter Emily, now four. She began teaching parent-infant classes 3 years ago and continues to teach at Creative Space in Los Angeles, California. She is currently writing a book about holistic and conscious parenting and remains a freelance film executive.

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